That's a really great question, and something I've been struggling with lately, to be honest.
I mean, there are all sorts of easy answers...The excitement of getting to work with artists who inspire you, or the joy of finding such an amazing group of friends in this industry, the thrill of sitting next to your family as you see your name in the credits, or the creative stimulation from the ever-changing challenges you're presented with...
The truth, though, is that the last year especially, I've been feeling like my contribution to the world as an animator is... well, not as great as it could be were I to jump ship and throw myself into something else. Something more "meaningful." Building houses, becoming a doctor, joining the Peace Corps, HELPING people in some way. In any way.
It seems like every other person I meet is a nurse or a doctor or a social worker or a counselor or something who's directly impacting the lives of the people around them in a tangible way. I'm so envious of what they do and their accomplishments and it really has been making me feel like our accomplishments pale in comparison in such a glaring and overwhelming way.
Don't get me wrong, I *love* animation. I'm as passionate about this stuff now as I ever have been, and know darn well that I've been blessed and lucky beyond anything I deserve in this industry. I love animating, I love talking about animation, and I love meeting and getting to know animators. This job is crazy inspiring artistically, and more fun than anyone should have in a "job."
But how can I meet a firefighter and think that what I do matters in any real way compared to the lives he saves on a weekly basis?
I won't lie – it's had me down. I don't know how many of you have felt the same way, but I suspect many of you have thought about this... We don't have a lot of time here on this ball of Earth, and I want to know that I spent it well, you know?
At least that's how I was feeling this week until I had dinner with an old friend of mine who reopened my eyes to what we are truly doing.
He reminded me of an experience we both shared. When we were 5, we both separately saw Empire Strikes Back, and it changed our lives in a very real way. It gave us a passion for storytelling, and a dream to help create new worlds.
He pointed out that while we may not be building someone a house today, we might just help inspire a whole new generation of dreamers and storytellers. That there are 5 year olds out there just like us, with piles of creativity just waiting to be unlocked by a film or TV show or game that knocks their socks off and lights a fire within them, just as we were blown away by Empire, Nimh, Jurassic Park, and Toy Story. And those 5 year olds in turn will grow up to tell a whole new batch of stories and create lasting works of art that could uplift and inspire countless others, not to mention the possibility of taking the art form we love to a whole new level as future animators.
This also got me thinking about how most animators work on projects whose primary goal is to entertain an audience, and thus distract them from their daily miseries and troubles. Storytelling in all its forms has always served to help people escape their sadnesses, their illnesses, their fears, and their disappointments. While hiding from the difficult truths that hound our daily lives isn't generally the best way of dealing with them, I do think that temporary reprieves from those troubles are an important part of coping with them, absorbing them, and getting ready to move on from them.
And so, in yet another way, storytelling does serve a very important purpose, and one we can be proud to be a part of!
On top of that, we also occasionally get to be a part of a project that enlightens. Whether it's a film helping the audience broaden their worldview, a TV show teaching children to be selfless, or even the most action-packed video game forcing us to confront the consequences of violence; all of these mediums have the potential to be powerful methods to make people think and feel.
Of course, sometimes (many times, even) a story merely serves to excite and entertain and isn't very concerned with any particular message, and that's fine too. For those projects, we can feel good about still giving people the escape they need, and hopefully the inspiration they might not even have known they needed.
So, what's the most rewarding thing about being an animator? I guess it's the chance to inspire, the chance to teach, the chance to spread some laughter, and the chance to give an escape to people to desperately need it, even if only for a couple hours.
Thanks to my friend for reminding me that animation IS more than just having fun bringing something to life. I thought others out there might need a similar reminder, and when I saw this question come through from the blog, it seemed like a perfect chance to share.
So get out there and inspire/teach/entertain/rescue someone!!